Follow TV Tropes


Film / Dennis the Menace

Go To

In 1993, Dennis the Menace was made into a live-action film written and co-produced by John Hughes, directed by Nick Castle, and released by Warner Bros.. The cast includes Walter Matthau, Lea Thompson, Robert Stanton, Christopher Lloyd, Joan Plowright, and Mason Gamble as Dennis Mitchell.

It was so successful, it spawned two Direct to Video sequels, Dennis the Menace Strikes Again! (1998) and A Dennis the Menace Christmas (2007), both with different casts.

The original movie provides examples of:

  • Accidental Kiss:
    • While at Margaret's house, Margaret forces Joey to kiss her and also tells him to close his eyes. As Joey closes his eyes, Margaret tricks Joey into kissing her baby doll's butt, much to the latter's horror.
    • In a later scene, Mr. Wilson gets into an argument with his wife and later tries to apologize to her when he sees what looks like her in a chair. However, it's really Dennis' dog, Ruff. When Mr. Wilson tries to give what he believes is his wife a kiss, the real Mrs. Wilson walks into the living room and catches him kissing Ruff. When Mr. Wilson finds out, he kicks Ruff out of his house.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Mr. Wilson is slimmer than his comics counterpart and has a full head of hair to boot.
  • All There in the Script: Switchblade Sam is only named in the credits.
  • Amusing Injuries: One of John Hughes's post-Home Alone trademarks. Much of what Dennis (inadvertently) puts Mr. Wilson through and later Switchblade Sam when the latter abducts Dennis near the end.
  • The Artifact: After it's been stolen, Margaret inexplicably has her doll back when the neighborhood kids are out looking for Dennis. This is due to a deleted scene (retained in the tie-in movie storybook) where Switchblade Sam visits her, Dennis, and Joey at the redecorated treehouse, giving them candy (and her doll back) in exchange for information about their houses' valuables. Dennis also lets slip about Mr. Wilson's gold coins and his bookshelf safe, hence Sam knowing to look there in the final cut.
  • Aside Glance: It looks like Dennis is staring at us while playing dead so he won't be in Margaret's house.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...
    George: I think the little rat put mouthwash in my nasal spray and toilet cleanser in my mouthwash.
    Martha: Oh, why would he do something like that?
    George: [gives her a sarcastic smirk] Must you ask?
  • Artistic License – Biology: In reality, no flower would evolve a trait that caused it to take forty years to bloom and then die immediately afterwards, as such a trait would provide absolutely no benefits towards survival. A plant's flowers are, essentially, its sex organs. Flowers form into fruit, which in turn drop seeds. A plant that only drops seeds after four decades of growth would be unlikely to survive that length of time often enough to propagate itself. Such a plant could not feasibly be selectively bred either. Furthermore, biology is variable enough that even if such a plant existed, there's no way one could time the blooming down to the exact hour across a span of forty years.
  • Asshole Victim: Although not fatally, Switchblade Sam and Alice's coworker in the post-credit scene.
  • Balloon Belly: Happens to Switchblade Sam after Dennis forces him to eat an entire pot of baked beans.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Switchblade Sam yells this to Dennis in an attempt to silence his incessant pestering. It doesn't work.
  • Brutally Honest: Mr. Wilson.
    • "I'm not gonna mince words, Mitchell. Your kid is driving me nuts."
    • "[Gunther] better get used to it. Disappointment is gonna be a big part of his life. He's a foot short for his age and he's cross-eyed."
  • Butt-Monkey: Mr. Wilson. Also, Switchblade Sam once he meets Dennis. The same with Alice's coworker when she does in the end.
  • Canon Foreigner: Gunther Beckman and Switchblade Sam were not pre-existing characters from the comic strip or the 1986 animated series and were created for the film. Same goes for The Professor and his sidekick Sylvester in the sequel Dennis the Menace Strikes Again.
  • Character Title
  • Conversation Cut: When Alice is delayed at the airport due to a cancelled flight and Dennis has to stay at the Wilsons’ house longer than originally planned:
    Martha: Don’t worry about it. You get home when you can. We’ll be just fine here!
    Alice: What’s George gonna say?
    George: Over my dead body!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mr. Wilson often cracks some sarcastic quotes when he's not a Grumpy Old Man.
  • Death Glare:
    • Mr. Wilson gives a couple to Dennis during the party.
    George: Don't embarrass me.
    • Martha Wilson gave one to George for explaining his reason for lying to Gunther (see Brutally Honest).
    • Margaret gives one to Joey when he is laughing at her for wanting to know how babies are made, which makes him stop laughing.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Switchblade Sam's stealing of Margaret's doll. Afterward, Margaret claims the doll was a priceless antique, but 1) Sam didn't know it at the time, and 2) Margaret's claim isn't credible, as no one would give a five-year-old a priceless antique as a toy (unless she specifically asked for it, which is also likely).
  • Dramatic Thunder: This happens twice.
    • The first time is when Dennis and Mr. Wilson are discussing the latter’s safe.
      Dennis: I bet I know what [the combination to Mr. Wilson's safe] is.
      George: I doubt that.
      Dennis: I bet it's your address.
      *Booom* (George freezes in shock)
    • Then later when Dennis’s Mom calls Mrs. Wilson to let her know that her flight back home from her business trip has been delayed, so Dennis has to stay at the Wilsons’ house a little longer than originally planned.
      Alice: I know your garden party's tonight. I feel terrible. I don't know what to do!
      Martha: Don’t worry about it. You get home when you can. We’ll be just fine here!
      Alice: What’s George gonna say?
      (Conversation Cut)
      George: Over my dead body!
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery: When Dennis goes to Mr. Wilson's house to drop off an apology card for ruining his chicken dinner the night before, he finds Mr. Wilson's dentures and plays with them, accidentally knocking out the two front teeth and losing them in the sink drain. He tries to fill the gap in the false teeth with white gum, which results in Mr. Wilson being given a huge buck-toothed smile when he poses for a photo being put in a newspaper advertising a garden party he is hosting at his house.
  • Fantastic Slur: Dennis calls old people "cheek-pinchers".
  • Film Adaptation (Live-Action): A 1993 live-action adaptation of the American comic strip, with Dennis The Menace Strikes Again! (1998) and A Dennis The Menace Christmas (2007) as Direct to Video sequels.
  • Gass Hole: Switchblade Sam, after eating an entire pot of beans. He actually blows out the campfire.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: George says "G.D." a lot.
  • Groin Attack: Averted, as a canoe fell from the ceiling of Mr. Wilson's attic, barely missed his groin.
    • Earlier, while investigating the Mitchells' garage, he accidentally turned on the leaf-blower Dennis used as a vacuum cleaner to clean up the paint, which caught a golfball. Then when he turns it in reverse, the ball shot out hitting Mr. Wilson's groin.
  • Heel Realization: Mr. Wilson regrets his "Reason You Suck" Speech to Dennis when he goes missing, and tries to help search for him.
  • Human Shield: The stated reason behind Switchblade Sam's kidnapping of Dennis.
    Dennis: What does a hostage have to do?
    Switchblade Sam: Nothing.
    Dennis: Then how come you need one?
    Switchblade Sam: In case the cops show up!
    Dennis: Do I get to use a gun?
    Switchblade Sam: No, you get to stand in front of me in case the cops use a gun.
  • I Am Big Boned:
    Martha: Weren't you a fat boy?
    George: I was husky.
  • Internal Reveal: Dennis, being so innocent and trusting, doesn't know Switchblade Sam is a robber until the very climax, when he discovers Mr. Wilson's stolen gold pieces amongst his stash.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: After vacuuming paint and sawchips from his garage floor, Dennis reverses the fan and blows the contents into Mr. Wilson's barbecue. Later, when eating his steak, Wilson says "It tastes like paint... and wood".
  • Jerkass:
    • George Wilson, for the most part. But mostly because he is just a cynical old man, even partly because he is the one constantly taking the blows and being the butt of Dennis' blunders, and he has an obsession with a reward involving his garden, which hijacks some of his concerns for others.
    • A woman employee at Alice Mitchell's work who has several cameos because of how conceited she is. She finally gets what she deserves at the end.
    • Then there is Switchblade Sam, not only because he is the cat burglar, but because he has the heart to go around trampling on flowers that are in his path and swiping fruit out of the hand of a kid.
  • Jerkass Realization: George, following his "The Reason You Suck" Speech after it's become apparent Dennis went missing as a consequence of it. He immediately gets in his car and goes out looking for the boy.
  • Kick the Dog: Mr. Wilson delivers a particularly vicious and drawn-out "Reason You Suck" Speech to Dennis after Dennis inadvertently causes him to miss the long-awaited blooming and death of a flower he had been cultivating. Wilson does realize that he took things way too far when he finds out that Dennis was trying to warn him that his house was being burglarized and that he had gone missing shortly afterwards.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Towards a bitchy coworker of Alice Mitchell. She forces the latter into going on a business trip in her stead, despite the fact that Alice has a kid to watch over, on the basis that she "[has] a life." The movie ends with said kid, Dennis, getting her stuck in a copier machine.
  • Leitmotif: Whenever you start to hear an electric guitar lick, know that Switchblade Sam is about to turn that corner the camera is slowly tightening on.
  • Life's Work Ruined: The flower that took 40 years to grow and flowers for a few seconds... and no one sees the whole process because of Dennis yelling at just the right moment.
  • Live-Action Cartoon: It is based on a comic strip after all, complete with Cartoon Physics, and Switchblade Sam and Mr. Wilson go through various pratfalls that would have gotten them killed in real life. If you’re wondering how similar they are to Harry and Marv, John Hughes produced and wrote both films.
  • Montage: "Don't Hang Up"
  • Mood Whiplash: After a touching (and sad) scene where Martha recites a poem to Dennis who misses his parents (and vice versa), we cut to the ever-present full moon that's suddenly overlapped by Switchblade Sam smoking on the train bridge accompanied by sinister music. Then we cut back to the Wilsons' house where George slips on the bathroom floor thanks to Dennis dripping soapy water.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mr. Wilson is guilt-stricken when he learns that Dennis ran away because of his tirade and that he was indeed trying to warn him of a burglary (that happened to take place at the same time as the long-awaited flower bloom) and his safety might be in danger because Switchblade Sam — a man with a lengthy criminal history — is at large.
  • Not-So-Innocent Whistle:
    • Dennis when he accidentally spilled some mothballs, on which George accidentally slipped.
    • Mickey, one of Dennis's babysitters, also does this while subtly taping a tack to the doorbell in order to counter-prank the ding-dong ditcher (unaware it's Dennis himself).
  • Oh, Crap!: At least three times, from Dennis.
    • When the large blob of paint is about to fall on Mr. Wilson.
    Dennis: Uh-OH!
    • When he broke Mr. Wilson's dentures.
    • And when he learns Sam is a thief and that he was the one who robbed Mr. Wilson.
    Dennis: This is Mr. Wilson's gold. How come you got it?
    Sam: I stole it!
    Dennis: You're a robber!?
    Sam: I'm a thief!
    Dennis: Uh-oh!
    • Mr. Wilson also has this reaction when Dennis, a five-year-old, gets the combination to his safe right on the first guess.
    • Dennis has a non-verbal one when he visibly winces at the sight of Mr. Wilson screaming and ripping his prized plant out of the ground after he misses it blooming due to Dennis' unfortunate bad timing. He's right to be scared, as Mr. Wilson then lays a horrifyingly cold verbal smackdown.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Switchblade Sam apparently figured out George's combination is his address.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: Switchblade Sam initially seems ok with the idea of taking Dennis along as a hostage, but being Dennis, he doesn't make things easy for him.
  • Porn Stash: George apparently has some old "Peep Show" magazines in the attic, which Dennis finds.
    Dennis: Holy smokes! You got to be pretty brave to ride on a tiger in your underpants.
    George: Put that away! That's not for kids!
  • Properly Paranoid: Chief Bennett is suspicious of Switchblade Sam, and makes it clear to him that he'd rather not have Sam be sticking around town any longer.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Following the Summer Floraganza event at Mr. Wilson's house, Wilson gives an unbelievably cruel and horrifyingly vicious one (one might argue bordering on sadism) after Dennis tries (unsuccessfully) to warn Wilson that his home was being burglarized ... causing Wilson to miss the entire life cycle — its bloom and death last less than 15 seconds — of a rare species of flower that he had nurtured for 40 years. Wilson, thinking Dennis is trying to pester him about nothing in particular, delivers the tirade, seen under Tranquil Fury.
    George: You're a pest. A menace. A selfish, spoiled little boy and I've no use for you. You took something from me that I can never get back, something that means more to me than you ever will. You understand? I don't want to see you, I don't want to know you. Get out of my way.
    [walks away]
    Dennis: [in tears] I'm sorry, Mr. Wilson.
  • Sarcasm Mode:
    • Dennis: You know, Mr. Wilson, you wonder why I'm not crying? If I'm not gonna be around my mom and dad, the only other person I wanna be around is you.
      George: I can't tell you how deeply moved I am.
    • [a couple of quotes when Martha and George get in bed one night and engage in a personal discussion]
      Martha: [just before getting into bed] George, are you sleeping?
      George: I was until you started yacking.

      Martha: I would have been a good mother.
      George: And I would have made a swell fireman. [turns to his side]
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Dennis, when his hair is sucked into the leaf blower.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: At the end of the credits scene, when Dennis pressed the Print button on the copying machine, resulting in the lady co-worker (from earlier) getting stuck in the copier machine.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Both Mr. Wilson and one of Dennis's friends use their address as their combination for their safe and bike, respectively. Even Switchblade Sam figured it out.
  • Tempting Fate: Alice Mitchell's co-worker is offered help by Dennis with using the copy machine. She snidely turns down his offer, mockingly saying he doesn't know which buttons to press. Not seconds later, Dennis proves her wrong and innocently presses the print button, which nearly strangles her.
  • Title Drop: Sort of.
    George: I can't stand that kid! He's a menace!
  • Too Much Information: In one scene, Dennis talks to Martha about how his parents "wrestle" on Sunday nights.
    Dennis: I guess it because they take off their clothes...
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: Switchblade Sam's attempt to take Dennis as a hostage ends up with him being incapacitated by being stuffed full of an entire pot of beans and tied down when Dennis practiced tying knots on him.
  • Tranquil Fury: Mr. Wilson brings the white-hot rage to the film's climax. Also doubles as a Title Drop.
    Mr. Wilson: "You're a pest. A menace. A selfish, spoiled little boy and I've no use for you. You took something from me that I can never get back, something that means more to me than you ever will. You understand?" (Dennis, trying to comprehend what he was told, nods.) "I don't want to see you, I don't want to know you. Get out of my way." (Dennis begs for forgiveness and begins to cry, but Wilson ignores him as he yells at his guests to go home.)
  • Unique Moment Ruined: How Mr. Wilson perceives the moment when the blooming of the flower that he's been tending for 40 years is ruined by Dennis's badly-timed announcement that the Wilsons' house has been burgled. Mr. Wilson's response is a vicious, scathing denouncement of Dennis.
  • Unperson: What Mr. Wilson regards Dennis as he makes his cruel, scathing remarks following the flower bloom scene.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: The rough, grimy Switchblade Sam contrasts the otherwise cheerful, suburban setting and characters. And by the end of the movie, he's ready to pull a knife on a five-year-old kid.
  • Villain Decay: For a great part of the movie, Switchblade Sam, the thief, is a quite sinister and creepy villain with great Knight of Cerebus qualities. Once he takes Dennis hostage, however, he immediately becomes a goofy Butt-Monkey on the same level as Harry and Marv.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds:
    • Dennis and Margaret. Despite Dennis's (and Joey's) dislike towards her (and vice versa), they willingly work together to build a treehouse in the woods. And Margaret cries when Dennis has disappeared.
    • Dennis and Mr. Wilson to some extent as well. Despite Mr. Wilson's frequent annoyance with Dennis's shenanigans, Mr. Wilson is legitimately concerned when Dennis is missing and is overjoyed to see him return safe and sound. Dennis, at one point, also mentions how Mr. Wilson taught him how to tie knots, so Mr. Wilson clearly does (or at one time, did) enjoy having Dennis around more than he lets on.
  • Was Too Hard on Him: Mr. Wilson eventually realizes that his tirade toward Dennis was way too harsh and that it led to him running away. Even more so when he realizes that a wanted criminal is on the loose and Dennis might be in danger.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Switchblade Sam: What a guilt-wrought Mr. Wilson fears will happen once he realizes Dennis is missing and that Switchblade Sam — a suspect in a string of burglaries — is at large. Not to mention Sam's initial plan to use Dennis as a Human Shield and then when he gets fed up with him, tries to kill him with his knife.
    • Mr. Wilson himself, but these are through his words. While it is true that Dennis had caused his fair share of troubles and deserved, eventually, at least a stern talk to, at the time of his cruel tirade, he doesn't care that Dennis is just 5 years old or what long-term psychological effects said speech will have... he blames him solely for missing the bloom of a rare flower that was his life's work. In fairness, unlike Switchblade Sam, Mr. Wilson exhibits remorse for what he said and did.

Dennis the Menace Strikes Again includes examples of:

  • Carrying a Cake: This film begins on Mr. Wilson's birthday. Dennis and his many pets visit Mr. Wilson, causing Mr. Wilson to roll down the stairs in Dennis' wagon. When Mrs. Wilson comes to see her husband, carrying his birthday cake, she gets spooked by Dennis' pet lizard and tosses the cake in the air, where it lands on Mr. Wilson's face.
  • Company Cross References: As this is a Warner Bros. film, plushes of Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, and Taz the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes can be seen as prizes in the carnival.
  • Cool Old Guy: Dennis' grandfather, who acts closer to Dennis.
  • Death By De Aging: Discussed; The Professor and Sylvester try to scam Mr. Wilson by selling him a root that can make people younger if they use it. Upon hearing about this, Dennis worries that if he uses too much of it, he'll become so young that he'll cease to exist.
  • Denser and Wackier: The humor is more in line with the comic strip than the previous movie.
  • Exact Words: After Dennis gets grounded for covering the entire neighborhood in cotton candy in an attempt to wash Grampa Johnson's car, Henry grounds him, saying he can only come over to the Wilsons' house if Mr. Wilson was hanging for his life by one finger, called for help, and there was no one else to save him. Sure enough, Mr. Wilson ends up hanging from the gutters by one finger and calls for help after Ruff chases Mr. Cuddles, resulting in Dennis rushing to his aid and foiling The Professor's and Sylvester's latest attempt to scam Mr. Wilson.
  • Go to Your Room!: Henry punishes Dennis for getting the entire neighborhood covered in cotton candy in an attempt to wash Grampa Johnson's car.
  • Manchild: Dennis's grandfather is like Dennis (with Mr. Wilson complaining that he does not act his age). However, he is less like this after experiencing living with Dennis for so long, as it takes a toll on him.
  • Pain to the Ass: At the carnival, Dennis and his friends play a game where they throw darts at balloons to pop them and win a prize. Mr. Wilson gets his butt stuck in the game's backdrop, resulting in Dennis and his friends mistaking it for a balloon and throwing darts at it.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise:
    • Margaret tries to get Dennis to like her by pretending to collect bugs, by disguising other animals as bugs. Dennis and the other boys fall for it, and Gina has to tell the boys they aren't really bugs. Similarly, Gina and the boys expose Margaret's ruse by dressing up a dog as a bug and asking her what kind of bug it is, which she is unable to identify.
    • The Professor and Sylvester use a variety of disguises to trick Mr. Wilson. While Sylvester's disguises as an old man and an Indian doctor are more convincing, their disguises as building inspectors and the various types of repairmen (that they, as inspectors, recommended) are not that well thought out, yet Mr. Wilson doesn't seem to see such resemblance in each pair of servicemen.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: The Professor preys on Mr. Wilson's insecurities about being in worse health than Dennis's Grandpa in an attempt to sell him life-extending and strength-boosting "elixirs".
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: This film ends with Mr. Wilson being spared of something painful and/or humiliating happening to him as its final gag. Instead, it happens to Grampa Johnson. Mr. Wilson turns down going on vacation to the Grand Canyon with Dennis, which results in Grampa Johnson falling down in his trailer when Dennis removes the rock holding it back and him having to be rescued by emergency services instead of Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson, who is safe in his house and miles away from Dennis, watches the news report of this on his television.
  • Unfortunate Item Swap: Alice places a bottle of Cotton Candy Mix left over from the carnival near a similar-looking bottle of soap. After Dennis accidentally gets Grampa Johnson's car dirty in an attempt to take out the garbage, he tries to clean it, but accidentally takes the bottle of cotton candy mix instead of the one of soap, resulting in Granpa Johnson's car, and eventually the Professor, Sylvester, and the neighborhood getting covered in cotton candy.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough?: When the Professor is arrested at the end, the arresting officer wonders who would be stupid enough to fall for his Snake Oil Salesman scams... while Mr Wilson, his main mark throughout the film, has a sheepish look on his face.

A Dennis the Menace Christmas provides examples of:

  • Bookends: The movie starts with Dennis riding and losing control of his bike, causing him to run into Mr. Wilson, which turns out to be All Just a Dream. In the end, this really happens.
  • The Bully: Jack Bratcher, who insults Dennis and calls him a loser, in part because his Jerkass father makes him be this way. After Dennis lets Jack win the bicycle race, Jack does lose his jerkass attitude and thanks Dennis.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: "Stupid" is treated like a bad word, with people referring to it as "the S word".
  • The Grinch: Mr. Wilson dislikes Christmas, and Dennis tries to invoke the Christmas spirit in him.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: Combined with Yet Another Christmas Carol in the third act, with an angel showing Mr. Wilson his past, present, and future.
  • Jerkass: Jack's father, David Bratcher. He encourages his son to bully Dennis, is implied to have bullied Henry when they were kids, and puts a "Dennis clause" into his insurance policy (and gloats to Henry about selling more insurance with the clause).
  • Jerkass Realization: After all the frustration and damage that Dennis causes, Mr. Wilson chews Dennis out, intends to hold Henry and Alice accountable for the expensive damages, and even spites the kid by telling him there is no Santa Claus. Bob the Angel puts Mr. Wilson through Yet Another Christmas Carol to show how this will ruin Dennis's life and leave him a bitter, lonely cynic. When it's over, Mr. Wilson gets to work making up for what he's done.
  • Let There Be Snow: Joey's Christmas wish is for it to snow, despite the fact that it hasn't snowed in his town for 30 years. He gets his wish in the end.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Played with. Before the bicycle race begins, David and Jack discuss this, but it is only a race between two people. But David does specifically ask his son if he knows what second place is for, as opposed to last place.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: The last act is this, with Bob the angel showing Mr. Wilson his past, present, and future.
  • Your Television Hates You: Dennis's attempts to bring Christmas cheer to Mr. Wilson result in the latter being hospitalized, arrested, and having his house set on fire. Because David Bratcher has sold an insurance policy with the Dennis Clause to the Wilsons, this means that Henry and Alice have to pay for all the damages inadvertently caused by Dennis. When the expense for the damages is beyond what they can pay for (approx. $45,000.00), they try to take their mind off it by watching television. Unfortunately for them, the movies playing on TV include Children of the Damned, The Bad Seed (1956), and Rosemary's Baby.

Alternative Title(s): Dennis The Menace Strikes Again